Snowmobile Mows Down Iditarod Dogs; Judge Calls It Terrorism

The Iditarod sled dog race made news in the worst possible way around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, when a drunk driver on a snow machine attacked two teams on the trail. Snowmobile driver 27-year-old Arnold Demoski told the Alaska Dispatch News he was "blackout drunk" at the time of the incident. His sled plowed into the teams of Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King as they were traveling to the Yukon River checkpoint of Nulato, about 580 miles into the race. Nash, a 4-year-old dog on King's team was killed, and two other dogs were injured.

The Iditarod saw some 85 teams this year at the Anchorage starting point of 4th and D Street on Saturday, March 5 at 10 a.m. Each team must start with 16 dogs and finish with at least six. The race is 1,150 miles long, from Anchorage to Nome, and takes at least eight days to finish for those who make it.
Mushing in Alaska takes a special type of stamina. If the trail is too cold, the subzero temperatures make it almost impossible to ward off hypothermia. If it is too warm, the slush can make travel cumbersome. Mushers contend with snow blindness, frostbite, exhaustion, hallucinations due to lack of sleep, and the possibility of a wrong turn stranding them.

There are other hazards, too. Wolves frequent the wild spaces in Alaska. But probably the biggest, natural hazard facing mushers is moose. The world's most famous female musher, Susan Butcher, had to pull from the race in 1985, after a moose attacked her team. For twenty minutes, it charged and trampled her dogs, killing two of them and injuring 13 others. Finally, the musher following Butcher came along and shot the moose.

During the 2013 race, Alaska Public News reported an incident the Race Marshall called "one of the worst tragedies in Iditarod history." Rookie musher Paige Drobny stopped at the Unalakleet checkpoint, more than 700 miles into the race. She knew she had to leave her dog, Dorado behind. He had been getting stiff and she knew he wouldn't last through the rest of the race.
"Dorado was scheduled to fly back to Anchorage with a group of other dropped dogs, but high winds and blowing snow grounded commercial flights and more than 130 dogs remained in the checkpoint for more than three days. The majority of the dogs were moved inside, but Dorado was among 30 that were not. On the morning of March 15th, Dorado was found buried in drifted snow. Preliminary necropsy results show the dog died from asphyxiation."
Following this tragedy, the racing committee determined to have better facilities for dropped dogs at the check points.Moose and inclement weather have taken their toll on a number of races. Dogs have died of pneumonia, hypothermia and other unknown causes. But snowmobiles present a different sort of ominous threat.

In a story by the StarTribune, a team from Finland Minnesota was struck by a snowmobile on the Yukon River in the 2008 Iditarod. The impact killed Jennifer Freking's three-year-old dog Lorne, and injured a second dog named Aries. Freking's sister, Cindy Elkins, told the StarTribune that Freking had heard the snowmobile coming for quite some time, but despite the musher's head lamps, the driver didn't slow down.

"It's actually not that unusual. Dog teams all over the nation live in fear of snowmobilers. There have been many instances of snowmobiles killing and injuring sled dog teams."
The high mortality of sled dogs in the Iditarod is causing animal rights activists to protest. According to PETA, dogs die every year running the race. "The dogs' feet become bruised and bloodied, cut by ice, and just plain worn out from the tremendous stretch of ground that they cover. Many pull muscles, incur stress fractures, or become sick with intestinal viruses or bleeding stomach ulcers." PETA added that, as a volunteer veterinarian for the race, Scott Moore "saw dogs with torn Achilles tendons, dehydration, diarrhea, hypothermia, hyperthermia, inflammation in the wrists, and soreness in shoulders from the harnesses."

USA Today sportswriter Jon Saraceno dubbed the race the "Ihurtadog."

Victims of the 2016 drunk driving incident, mushers Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King, are determined to press on and finish the race. Daily Kos said that villagers from Nulato, the place in which Demoski lives, will have a fundraiser selling crafts to offer a gesture of compensation to King and Zirkle.

UPDATE Tuesday March 15:

According to Fox News, Dallas Seavey won his third straight Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race today. Seavey completed the race in a race in a record time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, 16 seconds. He arrived in Nome at 2:20 a.m this morning.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, bail of $50,000 was set for Arnold Dumoski, the 26-year-old man who smashed into two sled dog teams, killing one dog and injuring four others.

Magistrate Romano DiBenedetto, a former prosecutor, did not take the 12 criminal charges lightly.

"If these allegations are proven to a jury, it could amount to be an act of terrorism. If the state had asked for $500,000, I probably would have granted it."
The complaints said that the snowmobile approached Zirkle at about 40 miles an hour, hitting her sled and flipping two of her dogs. Zirkle grabbed her lead dog, trying to pull him out of the way as the snowmobile was turning to slide toward her sideways. She grabbed a race marker, which she held out toward the driver, and he drove off.

When Demoski collided with King's team, he was going approximately 100 miles per hour, the report said. He killed one dog and injured four others, one critically, before driving off.

If Demoski's bail is made, prosecutor Bill Spiers is insisting that one condition be that he is not allowed to operate a motor vehicle.

"I don't want him to drive anything at all—not even a scooter."
King and Zirkle are still in the race and pressing on to the finish.

[Image via Matt Cooper/Shutterstock]